May 11, 2022

Gregory Middleton, ASC, CSC on Moon Knight, shooting reflections and lighting for imaginary characters, Watchmen, Game of Thrones

Cinematographer Greg Middleton’s intention in his work is never to make viewers think, “Oh wow, cool shot!” He wants them to be able to experience the movies or television series he shoots without drawing attention to the cinematography or lighting. For him, the art of cinematography is about making illusions, and convincing audiences that they are actually somewhere else.

Greg was excited to work on episodes 1, 3, 5, and 6 of the series Moon Knight  on Disney+ because it’s more of a personal and emotional journey for the character Marc/Stephen, rather than just the action and the superhero elements. He didn’t know anyone involved in the project before he was hired, which is unusual, but director Mohamed Diab liked Greg’s Emmy-winning work on HBO’s Watchmen, particularly episode 6: “This Extraordinary Being” which dives into the past of Hooded Justice. For Moon Knight, episode 5 needed someone who could handle seamless transitions through multiple scenes in Marc/Stephen’s past life. Greg also had experience from Game of Thrones working quickly in multiple foreign locations with large cast and crews.

There were many challenges for shooting a show like Moon Knight- location work, virtual sets, twinning, and animated characters interacting with real characters. Greg also had to play a lot with reflections and light. Because Marc/Stephen has a form of mental illness called dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder), his personalities often interact through reflective surfaces. Greg and director Mohamed Diab discussed and did extensive testing to figure out how they would make the reflections and successfully shoot them. Greg would move the camera, shoot the reflection one way, then later shoot it again to match it, or do a nodal camera pan, so that the perspective of the character doesn’t really change, but the reflection does. For the museum bathroom scene with infinity mirrors, the visual effects team needed to paint out the camera and boom mic later. Because actor Oscar Issac was playing two different characters with different body language and accents, it was easier for him to play first one character and then the other, and he didn’t usually switch quickly from one character to another. For Marc/Stephen’s interactions with the god Khonshu, they used an actor in costume, adding a pole to make him seem 9 feet tall. Greg also used a very real-looking maquette of Khonshu’s head to establish the proper lighting for the visual effects team to reference. The sets also incorporated small hints of Marc/Stephen’s reality and dream world, so that deciding what is real is always in question.

Find Greg Middleton: http://www.middletondp.com/#vanguard-fest-set
Instagram: @middlecam

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep167/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by ARRI: https://www.arri.com/en

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

April 6, 2022

Cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagné on Severance, working with Ben Stiller, Escape at Dannemora, Mrs. America

Severance, a trippy, mind-bending thriller on Apple TV+, takes the idea of work/life balance to an extreme. Certain employees working for the mysterious corporation, Lumon, undergo a surgical procedure called severance that plants a chip in their brain. Severed employees can’t remember anything from their personal lives while at work, and outside of work, they can’t access their memories of their office life. This creates two separate people, known as “innies” at work and “outies” at home.

Cinematographer Jessica Lee Gagné grew up in Quebec City, Canada, surrounded by movies from her father’s video stores which sparked her love of film. She took photography in school, then enrolled in a film program in Montreal. Jessica first began working with director Ben Stiller on the Showtime series, Escape at Dannemora. The two enjoyed working together, and while shooting Escape at Dannemora, Stiller was already talking about directing Severance. Jessica didn’t particularly like the idea of shooting an office show with absolutely no windows, with the same lighting setups over and over. However, during the preproduction process, she was able to find references that allowed her to find ways to shoot the Lumon offices in a cinematic way. The production design team also created a very strange and surreal world within the gigantic building, whose brutalist exterior is a real location at the former Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey.

Jessica crafted a unique camera style for Severance. Most of the scenes that take place in the Lumon offices are done with tracking dollies on remote heads, rather than with Steadicam. She enjoyed playing with camera height, often showing the ceiling and choosing wide, surveillance-like angles from corners or above. The office workers are often physically “severed” in shots- by cubicle walls, computers or doorways. In the elevator up or down from the office, the office workers transition from their “innies” to their “outies,” with a dolly in and zoom out on their faces to create a morphing effect.

Find Jessica Lee Gagné: https://www.jessicaleegagne.com

Instagram: @jessicaleegagne

See Severance on AppleTV+: https://tv.apple.com/us/show/severance/umc.cmc.1srk2goyh2q2zdxcx605w8vtx

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep164/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com
Sponsored by Arri: https://www.arri.com/en

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

February 2, 2022

Cinematographers Daniel Grant, CSC and Steve Cosens, CSC on shooting the series Station Eleven on HBOMax

Station Eleven is an HBOMax series based on the book by Emily St. John Mandel. The story focuses on several characters who are survivors of a devastating flu pandemic that wipes out most of the human population, completely collapsing modern civilization. The series mixes together the storylines of characters whose past and present timelines interconnect, weaving together the time during the pandemic, the days and months afterward, and then how the characters have adapted twenty years into the future. Art, music and theater have thrived in a small band of actors and musicians known as the Traveling Symphony. Kirsten, played by Mackenzie Davis, is the main character and a lead actor in the Traveling Symphony, going from settlement to settlement performing Shakespeare. Each community still remains under threat of hostile invaders, and a dangerous cult whose beliefs are based on a story from a graphic novel written before the pandemic appears to be on the rise.

Daniel Grant, CSC and Steve Cosens, CSC, both Canadian cinematographers, were hired as DPs for four episodes apiece for Station Eleven. They were happy to know that they’d be working closely together because they were familiar with each other’s work and comfortable with each other’s aesthetic. Executive producer Hiro Murai directed the first block of episodes- Episodes 1 and 3- with Christian Sprenger as the director of photography, and they established the initial look of the show. Murai and Sprenger shot two episodes in Chicago as COVID hit, and then production shut down for several months. Daniel and Steve were brought on to shoot the next blocks in Toronto, Canada, which felt weird and surreal as they developed the look and feel of a fictional post-pandemic world, while living through a real global pandemic.

As Daniel and Steve began prep, they were able to contribute their own ideas for the look and feel of Year 20 in Station Eleven’s post-pandemic world. Steve noted that the pacing of the show was very deliberate, and they would purposefully let shots hold for several beats. Each shot was nicely framed and the lighting was very naturalistic and organic- it was not a slick show with fast edits. With less humans around, they wanted to depict the earth returning to the natural world in the future, instead of the typical post-apocalyptic barren scorched landscape look. They wanted Station Eleven to feel positive and life-affirming, although still fraught with potential dangers.

Since the main storyline follows a roving band of theatrical performers, the show was always on the move with many different locations, and Daniel and Steve had to fuse the challenges of the logistics with the creative. Many episodes required different seasons or the same location dressed for different years. The hardest episodes and locations to shoot took place at the airport, set during Station Eleven’s pre-pandemic and then twenty years after the pandemic. The two cinematographers stayed in close contact and were true collaborators, sharing information and communicating to make it easier for each other as they switched off shooting in the airport location. Steve and Daniel would often have early morning phone calls to constantly feed each other information about the shoot day, and would watch each other’s dailies to match each other’s shots.

Find Daniel Grant: https://www.danielgrantdp.com/
Instagram: @danielgrant_dp

Find Steve Cosens: https://www.stevecosens.com/
Instagram: @cosenssteve

You can see all episodes of Station Eleven on HBOMax

Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com//ep157/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Sponsored by Assemble: Assemble has amazing production management software. Use the code cinepod to try a month for free! https://www.assemble.tv/
Be sure to watch our YouTube video of Nate Watkin showing how Assemble works! https://youtu.be/IlpismVjab8

The Cinematography Podcast website: www.camnoir.com
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/TheCinematographyPodcast
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz

November 11, 2020

Iris Ng, documentary cinematographer of Stories We Tell, Shirkers, Making a Murderer, and more

As primarily a documentary cinematographer, Iris Ng always asks where the camera should be at a given moment and how is it supposed to behave. She approaches a project asking about the perspective- is it supposed to be deeply personal, from within the lived experience of the person it’s about, or more observational and objective, from the outside looking in?

Quite a few of the documentaries Iris has worked on are deeply personal stories. Her first big feature was on fellow Canadian Sarah Polley’s film, Stories We Tell. The film integrated Sarah’s family home movies, shot on Super 8, into contemporary interviews with Sarah’s family members, and reenactments shot on Super 8 with actors in 70’s and 80’s era costumes. Iris ended up using several Super 8 cameras to shoot with, since the film cartridges are so short and the cameras had to be constantly swapped out and reloaded. Stories We Tell required a great deal of sensitivity as each person told their story of Sarah’s mother, Diane, a charismatic actor with many secrets who passed away in 1990. The documentary was critically acclaimed and received an Oscar nomination.

Iris took a similar approach to the documentary Shirkers. Like Stories We Tell, Shirkers uses personal excavations and film material from the past to examine it for answers. As a teen, writer/director Sandi Tan and her friends had made an indie film in Singapore called Shirkers. Their film teacher disappeared with all the footage once shooting had wrapped, and Sandi wanted to tell the story about tracking down what happened to the film through interviews with friends while going back to retrace the experience. They chose interesting setups and locations for interviews, and Iris would often turn the camera on Sandi to capture her reactions as she was reliving her past.

For the Netflix documentary series Making A Murderer, Iris had a different challenge. Iris came to the project on year nine of filmmakers Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos’ ten year process of shooting the series, and used her artistic eye to help elevate and add to the the previously shot footage. Each of the two seasons was 10 episodes long, so it was a matter of ensuring that there was enough coverage and angles, such as the exteriors of the Manitowoc County Courthouse for the filmmakers to work with.

Iris Ng is currently shooting more narrative projects, such as the web series Hey Lady for CBC Gem.

Find Iris Ng: http://iriscinematography.com/
Find out even more about this episode, with extensive show notes and links: https://camnoir.com/ep100/

Sponsored by Hot Rod Cameras: www.hotrodcameras.com

Website: www.camnoir.com
Facebook: @cinepod
Instagram: @thecinepod
Twitter: @ShortEndz